Outtakes from This Week’s PW Cover Story

By Neal Comment

I’m pretty pleased with how my Publishers Weekly feature on reactions within the science fiction publishing world to Dave Itzkoff’s new SF column for the New York Times Book Review came out (and while I’m at it, props to Gwenda Bond of Shaken & Stirred for her article on the mainstreaming of fantasy). But, as with any story, the research phase turned up way more material than I could possibly fit into the finished piece, and I was particularly sorry to lose this quote from Pyr editorial director Lou Anders:

louanders.jpg“I think science fiction needs to quit apologizing for not being sugar-coated, consolatory, easily-digestible pap. Science fiction is the genre that exists to examine the impact on society of technological evolution, which means, in this decade of exponential technological growth, it is poised to be the most relevant branch of literature going. You can’t build a future you haven’t imagined first, and if you’re going to denigrate the people in our culture who have the most far-reaching imaginations, it’s shooting yourself in the foot.”

While we’re on the subject of lost material, I did a lot of poking around the idea of small presses running a sustainable business on smart science fiction, a theme which quickly dropped away from the main story. But I wanted to do something with the thoughtful comments SF pros gave me on the subject, so after the jump I’ve dropped a couple grafs that may interest you.

In a recent essay for Asimov’s Science Fiction, Norman Spinrad cited Pyr, the SF/fantasy wing of Prometheus Books, as a small imprint which could dedicate itself to “science fiction written specifically for experienced and intelligent readers of science fiction” and, because of its low overhead, make a comfortable profit even with small print runs aimed exclusively at such a limited readership.

Tor senior editor David Hartwell challenges the model. “Does Pyr publish better books than Tor?” he asks rhetorically. “I don’t think so. In fact, many of the books they publish are things we rejected—not because they were bad, but because they weren’t as good as what we had. There’s a lot of that around, and Pyr has particularly bought British books that fell through the bottom of the market here even though they were pretty good.” (One such book is River of Gods by Ian McDonald, an acclaimed writer from Northern Ireland whose work has been out-of-print here in the U.S. for way too many years; I got a copy last week, and I’m dying to crack it open.)

Turning to other English-speaking nations for new science fiction is also the strategy taken by BL Publishing, an independent publisher specializing in movie and roleplaying game tie-ins, which recently announced plans to launch Solaris, a imprint dedicated to original SF and fantasy, in 2007. Vincent Rospond, BL’s sales and marketing manager, says Solaris will draw upon midlist SF writers from America as well as Britain, and even seek out works in translation, explaining, “We can make a smaller print run make more money for us than Simon & Schuster or Random House can. You have authors who may be at the low end at some of those publishers who would be a priority for us. It’s just a matter of economics.”

“We’re not a huge conglomerate, so we don’t need enormous numbers,” Pyr’s editorial director, Lou Anders, concedes, “but I disagree with Spinrad that there’s a ceiling.” Jill Roberts, the managing editor of Tachyon Publications, a small San Francisco press, shares Anders’s enthusiasm about SF’s potential to reach beyond its core audience. “We’re finding that if we’re putting out the right books, and we’re publicizing them and we’re passionate about them, we absolutely have both a genre audience and a non-genre audience,” she says. “It’s not the ‘throw 100 books against the wall a season and see what sticks’ approach.”